are tacked on trees at the Scottish shrine on
Colorado's Aspen Mountain.
Colo. — Stevie Ray Vaughan is hidden somewhere here on
Ajax Mountain, and we’re on a mission to find him.
following directions scrawled onto a scrap of paper, we
steer our skis toward a little hollow in a grove of trees.
We dip into the hushed alcove and find a single laminated
picture of the Texas blues guitarist tacked to the bark of
a towering pine.
Vaughan memorial is one of about 70 shrines that have
popped up here in the past 30 years. Some are simple, just
a few photos; others are elaborate, with signs and
significant objects and, in the case of the Golf Shrine, a
bucket of balls, a spare club or two, a "quiet"
sign leftover from a tournament and a hidden bottle of
fun comes in finding them. They’re tucked out of sight,
off the main ski runs, and some are hard to get to unless
you’re an expert skier. There’s a shrine for just
about everything, from the Kitty Cat shrine to the
Buckaroo shrine, from the Beer shrine to one dedicated to
a children’s toy called Pooper Troopers.
folks know about the John Denver shrine, and we glide into
the popular spot, where wind chimes tinkle and beads
dangle from branches. You can practically see the folk
singer, wearing a fringed jacket, peering at you through
fake Stoner Avenue street sign marks the entrance to the
Jerry Garcia shrine, where a bouquet of fake red roses,
drawings, photos and, sometimes, a few leaves of marijuana
are tacked to the trees.
are a lot of people who have skied Aspen for years and
have never seen one," says David Wood, a mostly
retired attorney who lives in Aspen and has written a book
about the shrines. He’s the one who pointed us toward
the Vaughan site, which has moved recently from an old
miner’s cabin to its new home off Ruthie’s Run.
"You can ski down and go right past one and not know
impromptu. They pop up organically, and they’re made
with love. And they feature an ever-changing array of
look on a map and can’t really find anything," Wood
says. "It’s an interesting phenomenon. The people
here in Aspen have felt the need to go off and do this,
and (the shrines) last."
known for plenty besides the shrines, too: Challenging
skiing, gorgeous scenery and, yes, excess.
journalist Hunter S. Thompson brought his brand of
counterculture to town in the 6’60s, Denver boosted its
popularity after recording a pair of songs about it, and
celebrities like Antonio Banderas, Meg Ryan, Jack
Nicholson, Mariah Carey and Lance Armstrong have all
called it home, at least part time.
it supports an upscale shopping district that includes
Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci shops, and it’s
easy to drop a couple hundred dollars on a meal in the
town’s swanky restaurants.
night, we stopped by the Little Nell, arguably Aspen’s
most famous hotel for the rich and famous, and sneaked
into the wine cellar, where master sommelier and wine
director Carlton McCoy let us peek at the 18,000 bottles
of wine stored there. The average customer spends $100 to
$300 on a bottle at the hotel’s restaurant, Element 47,
though one extravagant couple McCoy told us about recently
ordered a $5,000 bottle of Burgundy — and followed it up
with a $24,000 bottle.
the area’s history centers around mining, and that old-timey
character lives on.
the late 1870s, more than 500 miners lived in cabins and
lean-tos actually on the mountain, making their commute to
work short and sweet. Others lived in the town of Aspen
Prohibition, because they couldn’t drink and carouse as
they chipped away for silver veins, they ordered up
"milkshakes" secretly spiked with bourbon at the
Hotel Jerome. Happily for us, the hotel and adjacent J Bar
are still hopping today, and you can still order one of
those special shakes, called Aspen Crud. Even if you skip
the drink (but why do that?), it’s worth stepping into
the Jerome’s lobby, which once doubled as the town’s
post office. It’s a splendid mix of luxury and Old West.
the silver industry faded, the town struck gold with the
launch of Aspen’s fledgling ski industry in the 1940s.
Local historian Tom Egan toured us around the mountain,
pointing out the site of the first ski lift — a single
chair with a blanket for draping over your lap — and
other highlights. Today, eight lifts, including a heated
gondola, whisk skiers and boarders up the mountain, where
they can choose from 76 routes down.
is just one of four ski resorts that operate in the area,
and you can ride a free shuttle between all of them.
Buttermilk, which caters to beginners, opened in the late
1950s, as did the Highlands, with its more challenging
terrain. The sprawling resort of Snowmass began operations
Ajax Mountain at Aspen is an original, a stellar, compact
675 acres packed with glades, bumps and steeps where you
can work out all the kinks that come with sitting at a
desk all day.
half the mountain’s runs are marked expert only. The
good news if you’ve got skiers of lesser ability in your
crew? They can pop over to Buttermilk while you tackle the
steeps, and everyone can meet up and swap tales afterward.
be sure you tell them about the shrines you uncovered
during your explorations.
tickets start at $129 per day for adults (discount for
multiple days) online in advance and are good at Aspen,
Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.
Wood’s book about the Aspen shrines, "Sanctuaries
in the Snow," is available by sending a $24 payment
(shipping included) via PayPal to davidwoodlaw(at)aol.com.
Include name and mailing address. Profits are donated to a
local scholarship fund. Learn more about the shrines on
Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/kmoyvec.
fancy meal: Element 47 at the Little Nell, where dinner
for two will set you back upward of $150.
value meal: The Red Onion, the oldest saloon in town,
where you can get burgers, French onion soup or a heaping
plate of nachos for about $12.
bar: The J Bar at the Hotel Jerome.
more information: www.aspensnowmass.com
to go skiing but don’t want to plan?
Skiers & Boarders, a non-profit social club, organizes
seven or eight ski trips each year. The club, which formed
about 45 years ago, offers domestic and international
destinations. You don’t need to know how to ski to join.
is $35 for an individual or $45 for family. That allows
you to sign up for any of the group’s trips, which are
usually a week long. You pay separately for the trips, but
prices are reasonable and include airfare, ground
transportation and lodging. Lift tickets are priced
more information go to austinskiers.org or email